“He Doesn’t Know Me”: What Makes a Dad? A Personal Essay
I got out of the car so that he could find parking. The tension between us was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. My father and I had been at each other’s throats for weeks. I didn’t like the way he treated me and he was sick of hearing me talk about it. Looking at it now, it amuses me that he believed that a pair of sneakers and a trip to Chipotle would make it all better. A part of me wanted to believe that our relationship would improve. That he wouldn’t forget my birthday and that he wouldn’t forget the days that he was supposed to come and visit. But I knew that it wasn’t going to change. One lunch wasn’t going to fix anything.
Even though I was 11, I already knew that the damage had become irreversible.
We entered Chipotle and I immediately smelled the aroma of guacamole. It was particularly busy and there was almost nowhere to sit. There was a sense of joy in the room, something that didn’t exist between me and my father. I walked over to the only empty table, while he ordered our food. There was a small puddle of hot sauce left by the last customer who didn’t have the decency to clean it up. I took a brown napkin from the dispenser and wiped it away, restoring the table to its shiny, silver condition.
He walked over with a blank expression on his face as he placed our food on the table. I said, “Thank you,” but there was no response.
My father stared at me from across the circular metal table with his cold dark brown eyes. The light bounced off the middle of his sweaty, bald caramel-colored head. Part of his chest tattoo was visible through his white t-shirt. He scratched his stubble before beginning to unwrap his burrito. We ate in silence for about five minutes until he got bored and decided to stir the pot.
“I don’t like your hair that way,” he said in a harsh tone.
“Sorry, but it’s not your hair so why does it matter?” I asked.
“You are my child and I don’t like your hair like that,” he said, slowly putting down his fork.
“You barely acknowledge my existence, you don’t get to tell me how to style my hair,” I yelled.
There was an old black lady next to us who turned around when she heard me yell. I could have sworn I heard her neck crack. She didn’t say anything or move, she just stared. She stared right through me and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, but I promised myself I would not let him see me cry. I would not show him that I cared about our relationship, the relationship that he cared so little about. I kept trying to think of rude things to reply with, but I decided it wasn’t worth it anymore.
We keep falling into the same pattern. He keeps playing the victim, he has the nerve to act like I have done something to him. Every time we have an argument, he finds a magical way to make it my fault. I have been so incredibly patient and loving throughout all the crap that he has put me through. But I realized that I had to stop damaging myself for a relationship that had no real meaning to it. He claims that he doesn’t owe me an explanation because I am just a “child”. But what he fails to realize is that he hasn’t treated me like one.
This relationship is one that I will forever be grateful for because it matured me. It showed me that you can never let someone damage you to the point where you don’t recognize yourself. It showed me how I should and deserve to be treated. My father broke my heart, way before any boy had the chance to.
The one thing I learned from my father is that a “Dad” and a “Father” aren’t the same thing. A father is the male parent of the child. They share the same DNA as the child but aren’t responsible for their growth or development as a person. Anybody can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. A dad loves and supports you unconditionally. They guide you through life and help you reach your full potential. Whenever I explain to someone why I’m sad, they say I should be lucky because some kids don’t have a dad.
But the reality is that, I have a father, but I don’t have a dad.
The rest of the meal and the car ride back home were completely silent. It was at this point that I knew our relationship was over. He could try and keep pretending like it was okay, but I knew that it wasn’t. My father is so obsessed with himself and pointing out other people’s flaws, that he forgets his own. The fact that I gave up on our relationship doesn’t make me weak, I was just strong enough to let go. For 5 years, I have dedicated my energy to trying to make my father into someone he’s not. Instead, I should have been focusing on the positive relationships in my life. The ones that make me feel whole, not incomplete.
Think about it
Would you guess the writer of this essay is only 12 years-old? Jada is one of my fierce middle school student writers at The TEAK Fellowship. Look how clearly she sees and how much she knows about how people work. And if she has this level of insight into us “adults” (and into herself) when she’s “just” 12, what about when she’s 15, 18, 25? Check back here for her college essay in 5 years.
Meanwhile, let’s all of us try to be the kind of people we want our young to see us as.
Because they are looking, and my students, like Jada here, have something to say about it. Not just to a dad, but to all of us.